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Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 13:5-10, 14

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. 10 For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.


Last week’s post looked at Paul’s threat to impose church discipline on the Corinthians upon his return to them.

In today’s verses, Paul expresses his deep concern for their spiritual wellbeing.

John MacArthur breaks today’s verses down by theme (emphases mine):

We remember that, in verses 20 and 21, at the end of chapter 12, he expressed the concern for repentance; that the church be dealing with sin by repentance. And then, in chapter 13, verses 1 and 2, discipline; that where there was a lack of repentance, the church would act to express discipline on that sin. Thirdly, the issue of authority came up, in verses 3 and 4. He was concerned that the people recognize that Christ was the Lord of the church, and that His authority was coming to them through the apostolic testimony; through the preaching of the gospel by the apostle.

He is concerned, then, for the repentance of the church, the discipline of the church, and the authority over the church. Down in verses 7 and 8, the issue is obedience. He is concerned about the obedience of the church; that they would respond obediently to the truth. And then, in verses 9 and 10, he is concerned about the maturity of the church. He says at the end of verse 9, “that you be made complete” or mature. And so, repentance, discipline, authority, obedience, and maturity occupy the pastor’s heart, as he is concerned about the spiritual well-being of the church.

Paul urges the Corinthians to test themselves to see whether they are in the faith and understand that Jesus Christ lives in them, unless they fail to meet the test (verse 5).

Matthew Henry says that passing the test would indicate that Paul was indeed a true apostle, having brought them to Christianity:

Examine yourselves, c. Hereby he intimates that, if they could prove their own Christianity, this would be a proof of his apostleship for if they were in the faith, if Jesus Christ was in them, this was a proof that Christ spoke in him, because it was by his ministry that they did believe. He had been not only an instructor, but a father to them. He had begotten them again by the gospel of Christ.

Referring to himself in the first person plural, Paul says that he hopes he has not failed the test of being a true apostle (verse 6), a jibe at the false teachers who had denounced him so vehemently.

Paul says that his own integrity is secondary to their own spiritual wellbeing; he prays for them that they live in righteousness, even though he appears weak (verse 7), meaning to the world, especially to the false teachers.

MacArthur says that it is a gentle, motherly verse:

Now here Paul in verse 7 identifies himself as like a mother … There are a number of characteristics surrounding the picture of a mother. He talks about being gentle, being affectionate, being sacrificial, being loving, laboring, toiling night and day as mothers do in the rearing of their precious children … As pastors, we are like mothers in the sense that we are to come to our people as gentle, affectionate, sacrificial, loving, laboring, toiling night and day on their behalf

MacArthur explains what Paul meant by praying for the Corinthians:

So you get the picture as you’ve gone through this book that Paul’s reputation was an issue here, that the people needed to know he was genuine, and this is crucial feature throughout this entire epistle. That fact makes this passage quite remarkable, because notice what he says: “We pray to God,” verse 7, “that you do no wrong, not that we ourselves may appear approved but that you may do what is right even though we should appear unapproved.” Listen to this, as important, as crucial, as essential as his reputation was to his ministry and to people trusting him and believing what he said came from God, as critical as that was, he would set that aside in favor of their obedience. He was preeminently not about himself being approved but about their obedience, that they would not do what is wrong but would do what is right. A man’s reputation is crucial. Paul’s was crucial; it was important that people know he spoke the truth and spoke for God. And no man wants his reputation unfairly maligned. And Paul was concerned that the church know he was a real apostle. He wasn’t so concerned about the world but the church. But even more than that, he was concerned about their spiritual wellbeing. And if it had to mean that he would not be approved, he would rather have them do what is right and obey than to have some personal approval for himself.

Then Paul picks up the pace a bit, threatening church discipline, by saying that he cannot punish what is done in truth but can punish what goes against it (verse 8).

MacArthur elaborates, giving us the Greek word for ‘truth’:

First of all, the truth used twice in the verse, alētheia, refers to the blessed revelation of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ from justification through sanctification to glorification. The whole of God’s revelation, the message that comes from God, the Scriptures. If you’re obeying the truth, we can do nothing against that, so we can’t put on some big authoritative display is what he’s saying. If you’re doing what is right, if you’re obeying the truth of God’s Word, then I can’t come in with some kind of confident, confrontive show of authority and punishment. Well he would do it if he needed to. In the letter that he wrote the 1 Corinthian letter, he really went after the man who was having an affair with his father’s wife in 1 Corinthians 5 and told the church to throw him out … I mean if needed, he could act. But if they were all obedient and they were all living the truth of the Word of God, then he could do nothing. By nothing he simply means there would be no display of authority. There would be no discipline, no punishment. But on the other hand, he could act for the truth in behalf of the truth; in other words, to rejoice in its being honored by the Corinthians. That was his passion.

Paul goes on to say that he is happy when he is weak, meaning that Christ works through him, and the congregation is strong in a spiritual sense; he prays for their restoration as a unified, holy body of Christians (verse 9).

MacArthur says:

The desire of his heart was to come and find his people obedient so that he would not have to go against them but could line up alongside of them, and together they would be for the truth. And he would gladly appear weak if his children were strong. 

Verse 9: “For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong.” Paul had learned that in weakness he became strong. Back in chapter 12, verse 9, he said, “I boast about my weaknesses that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” At the end of verse 10, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” He had learned that when he set pride aside and became humble and accepted weakness and had disdain for his human abilities that he became an instrument of great power in the hands of God. He didn’t need to gain some strength, some human reputation. He needed rather to be weak. He had learned that weakness is the path to power, so he says, “We rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you’re strong. I’m happy to appear weak to the world if you’re strong.” And the fact is if they were strong, that would be a verification of his true apostleship because he was the source of the truth that made them strong

“This we also pray for, that you be made complete.” Now there are a lot of different words I thought about, but I really think integrity grips the issue here. Let me tell you why. It comes from a mathematical term integer, which means one; an integer is one. That’s a whole, it’s a unit. It’s an undivided element or reality. And he’s saying, “I just want you to be whole.” We hear a lot about wholeness today, holistic, wholeness. It is that idea, but it’s the Greek word katartizo. The verb basically means to put in place or to put in order. And its usage got really fills up its meaning. It was used to refer to restoring something that was broken. For example, reducing a fracture, taking something that was broken and doing the reduction necessary to put it back together. It was used of something that was out of joint, whether it was a dislocation talking about it anatomically. Where there was a dislocation, something was placed back into location, it was katartizo; it was put back in its appropriate place. It was used also of reconciling people, where there was some kind of breach or some kind of dislocation in relationships and people were reconciled. It means to put back into wholeness, to bring into wholeness, and that is what integrity is. Integrity is wholeness. That’s why the word comes from integer, which means one. It’s when everything in your life connects. It’s when your thoughts and your words, your belief system, and your actions all are in perfect harmony.

He reminds them that he can still be harsh with them and says that they should repent so that he can continue to build them up rather than tear them down through church discipline (verse 10).

MacArthur says that Paul sums up the whole book in that one verse:

Well, Paul concludes then this letter, really the main body of the letter, with one sentence. Verse 10, and this is a one-sentence summary of the epistle. One-sentence summary: “For this reason I am writing these things,” – these things means the whole 13 chapters – “For this reason I’m writing these things. While absent,” – remember now, he’s not there with them – “I’m writing while absent, in order that when present,” – and he’s coming, he says that in chapter 12, verse 14, chapter 13, verse 1, he’s coming for a third time – “that when present I may not use severity.” The word severity is sharpness, a sword. “I’m writing these things while I’m absent in order that when I am present I may not use severity. I really don’t want to come there and have to take out a sword. I really am writing these things now so that you can get things in order so that when I get there I don’t have to use severity. And that in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up. I would rather come and take the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and use it, rather than tearing down.” He will tear down, and by the way, that’s another warning just thrown in there at the end: “If I have to tear down, I will.” The word is “destroy” in the Greek. “But the authority which the Lord gave me he gave me for building up. That’s why he gave it to me. He gave me the authority he gave me to edify, to strengthen, to build you up. I really don’t want to come and destroy. I don’t want to come and tear down, so that’s why I’m writing. I’m writing these things while I’m absent so that when I come there I don’t have to use severity because you will have already dealt with these issues. And then I can just take the authority the Lord has given me through the truth of his Word and I can use it to build you up. And I won’t have to spend my time tearing down the false things that have been erected. Better a letter,” he says. “Better to be rebuked in this letter so that in my third visit it can be different than the second visit, which was so sad and so painful.” So he’s finally pleading, “Please, folks, please deal with these issues so when I come it can be a time of building up.”

The following verses are in the Lectionary:

11 Finally, brothers,[a] rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another,[b] agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you.

All that remains is for Paul’s benediction — an invocation of blessing — asking for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit to rest upon the Corinthians (verse 14).

That benediction is commonplace as a closing blessing in Catholic and Anglican Communion worship, because it mentions each Person in the Holy Trinity.

MacArthur explains:

To pronounce a benediction – that comes from the Latin word benedictus – it means literally to pronounce a blessing on someone; to invoke a blessing. Paul wanted for his church that they would get everything in order; perfection. He wanted that they would have deep and expressive love; affection. And he wanted that they would have blessing coming from heaven in a flood; benediction.

And he knew that if they were obedient, and if they were faithful, they would know the benediction of God, they would know the blessing of God. This is a full benediction, by the way. This is a magnificent benediction. It’s worthy of a – of a lot more attention than I’m able to give it … but you need to grasp this benediction, because of its importance. It is the most complete benediction Paul gave to end any letter. And typically, he gave benedictions in his letters.

He gave one at the end of Romans. He – he gave a couple at the end of Romans. He gave one at the beginning of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. And here, at the end of 2 Corinthians, though, he gives a comprehensive benediction, and I – I want to point out two things about this benediction – though there are many things we could talk about – two main things. First of all, it is a trinitarian benediction, and as such, it strikes at the very heart of the – of the Christian faith.

It is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is the love of God, it is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; each member of the trinity is there. This is a trinitarian benediction. It is not a formally constructed doctrine of the trinity. It is not a systematic structure of the doctrine of the trinity. It is almost un-self-conscience. It’s almost as if Paul isn’t planning to teach the trinity, but it just sort of flows out of him, because when you talk about redemption, these are the three you talk about. And you know when you’ve read that, nobody’s been left out, and there’s nobody else to conclude – to include.

Nobody’s been slighted. The Lord Jesus is there, God is there, the Holy Spirit’s there, that’s it. It’s an almost self-conscience simplicity that’s so beautiful about this. And there’s also an obvious equality here. There is – there’s no – there’s no difference laid out. There’s no subordination laid out here. This is clearly a trinitarian statement. The Lord Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit, are the essential persons that make up the one true God. This is the doctrine of the trinity.

MacArthur emphasises that all true Christians believe in the Triune God, one in three Persons, a divine mystery:

Any denial of the doctrine of the trinity creates a non-existent false god, and is a form of idolatry. If you deny that the Holy Spirit is God, then you have a false god. If you deny that Jesus is God, you have a false god. That is idolatry. If you deny that the Father is God, you have a false god. Anything less than the doctrine of the trinity is creating a non-existent false god, and that is as much idolatry as if you carved out a totem pole and worshiped it. God is God when God is understood as trinity.

Of course, after all these months of reading about 2 Corinthians, we want to know how the story ended.

MacArthur has the answer. He believes the congregation did what Paul told them to do before his third visit:

Did they listen? Did they respond? Did they clean up their church? Did they deal with the false teachers? Did they welcome him when he came? Did he come? Yes, he came. It’s recorded in Acts 20, verses 2 and 3; he came on the third visit. And there is no specific statement made anywhere in the New Testament that says this is how the Corinthians acted when he got there. We don’t have that explicit a statement, but there are some evidences that when he got there it was a positive meeting. There are some evidences that the church read this letter, responded to this letter and turned back to Paul totally so that his third visit was joyful and that it was a time for building up, which was his passion, not having to tear down. How do we know that? I’ll give you four reasons.

Reason number one, during his third visit, as I said recorded in Acts 20, verses 2 and 3, he was there three months, three months. Three months probably would have been too short a time to deal with issues if they’d been extremely serious. It was just long enough for some sweet fellowship. But during those three months, he wrote the book of Romans so that the book of Romans becomes a window on Paul’s attitude while he’s at Corinth during the third visit. Perhaps it was the winter of 56 or early into the year 57 A.D., and it was there in Corinth that he wrote Romans. Romans contains some personal notes, as you well know in chapter 15 and 16, but there are no concerns expressed by Paul for his present condition. No negative concerns are expressed at all, which leads us to believe that he was in a very happy and joyful and satisfying time in Corinth. He makes no reference to anything negative whatsoever. Knowing his passion for that church, he would have been hard-pressed not to have expressed some serious issue.

Secondly, when Paul was writing from Corinth chapter 15 and verse 24, Paul says to the Romans, “Here’s my plan. I’m writing you because I want to go to Spain and I want to see you in passing and be helped on my way there by you.” In other words, here was his plan: He wanted to take the Gospel to Spain. He’s in Corinth, that’s in Macedonia. West of Macedonia is Italy and Rome. Further west of course is Spain, as far as you can go on the continent of Europe. He wanted to get the Gospel to Spain, and his plan was I’m going to come to Rome and I want you to outfit me. I want you to help me give me the resources I need. Outfit me to go with the Gospel to Spain. Now he was seemed in a very hurry to do that, and it’s very unlikely that he would’ve had a brief stay like this in Corinth in a hurry getting on to Rome to get on to Spain if he had some serious issues to deal with in the Corinthian church. If that Corinthian church was not in order, it’s unlikely that Paul would’ve been in a hurry to leave. He had invested so much in that church, but the very fact that he was really in his Spirit on the move when he wrote Romans is indicative of the fact that things were well in Corinth.

Thirdly, in Romans also chapter 15, verses 26 and 27, it says, and this is a very important note, Macedonia and Achaia, and remember Corinth was in Macedonia; Macedonia was the province of Greece as we know it and Achaia as well. Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem; yes, they were pleased to do so. Now that indicates that the Corinthians finished giving their money for the poor saints of Jerusalem. Remember in chapters 8 and 9 Paul was trying to get them to finish the collection of money to take to the poor saints in Jerusalem. Well, here he says when writing the Romans from Corinth on his third visit that they were pleased to make a contribution. He says they were pleased in verse 26; he says they were pleased in verse 27. Indication that there was a very pleasing relationship between Paul and the people. The people in Jerusalem he says in verse 27 are indebted to them because they have shared with them in this way. “Therefore, when I have finished this,” verse 28, “and put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. And I know,” – look at verse 29 – “when I come, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” I think he was just engulfed in blessing. They responded in every way, I believe. They responded to the offering, to the poor saints. They embraced Paul. He sat down with a clear mind and a deep, deep devotion to the Gospel and penned this massive glorious tone, the book of Romans, while he was there. I think the environment was as good as we could have imagined it would be. And the fact that they would give their money to the poor saints and to Paul who was the man collecting the offering indicates their attitude toward him.

Finally and fourthly, the acceptance of this letter by the Corinthian church and its inclusion in the New Testament is indicative of the fact that they responded appropriately. If they had received the letter and rejected it, it would have been hard to have them accept it as the Word of the living God. They would have then been rejecting God. But when they did receive it, they were affirming that it was the Word of God. It found its way there by into the New Testament canon. Its very introduction into the canon of Scripture, its acceptance as the Word of God certainly indicates a good response. And furthermore, because it was the Word of God, had the Corinthians not responded well, probably everybody else in the churches of the ancient world would have severely ganged up on them at that point. It is an indication I think of the fact that the Word of God is powerful and it accomplishes its purpose. Isaiah 55, it doesn’t return void, it accomplishes the purpose God desires it to accomplish, and I believe it did in that church in Corinth.

Next week, I will begin a study of the Book of Galatians.

Next time — Galatians 2:1-5


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